Skin Barrier Repair Moisturizers

3 lipids make up the skin barrier in a puzzle piece pattern

How to Find the Best Skin Barrier Repair Products To Fix the Skin Barrier 

It is not easy to find the best skin barrier repair moisturizers unless you understand how to fix the skin barrier.

Skin barrier repair products such as cleansers, oils, and creams may claim to repair the skin barrier when they do not. 

In fact, some barrier repair moisturizers actually injure the skin barrier!

How can this be true? 

There is no proof needed to say a moisturizing cream "repairs the barrier" and there is much confusion about what a good barrier repair moisturizer is.

We will educate you on how to know if a barrier repair moisturizer is good and really strengthens the skin barrier as it claims.

You can read here about what the skin barrier is here.

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How to repair your skin barrier?

3 steps to repairing your skin barrier are:

  1. Stop habits that are hurting your skin barrier.
  2. Use a barrier safe creamy cleanser
  3. Find a good barrier repair moisturizer  

Keep reading for more dermatologist tips to strengthen your skin barrier.

How to find the best barrier repair moisturizers?

The best barrier repair moisturizers must have these attributes to work:

The best dermatologist- recommended barrier repair moisturizers are:

Do I need a barrier cream?

If you have dry dehydrated skin, you need a barrier repair moisturizer and a barrier safe cleanser.

The best way to find a good barrier repair cream is to take our dermatologist-developed  quiz and shop by your Baumann Skin Type.

What is skin barrier cream? 

A skin barrier cream has lipids that mimic the skin’s natural skin barrier structure. The lipids must be the correct type, shape and number so they match the skin’s intricate bilayer multilamellar structure. When the barrier is intact, the lipids prevent water from passing through.


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Dry skin has tiny holes in the bilayer lipid membranes. This allows water to evaporate off the skin, leaving the skin dehydrated and unprotected from allergens, irritants and microbes.

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Skin barrier creams replace lost lipids in the skin- which is similar to plugging holes in the skin- to keep the skin watertight and protected.  However, the lipids must have the correct shape to properly plug the holes.  This si why the type of fatty acids in moisturizers is important.

Barrier repair moisturizers are cream moisturizers that contain lipids that mimic the natural multilamellar structure of cell membranes.

These are the 3 types of lipids that are found in effective barrier repair poducts:

Fatty acids

Cholesterol

Ceramides

Barrier repair creams must contain all 3 of these skin barrier repair ingredients in a 1:1:1 ratio

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How do you know if a barrier repair moisturizer is good?

We analyze a moisturizer’s ability to repair the skin barrier by looking at it under a microscope using cross-polarized light.

The best barrier repair moisturizers show the maltese cross pattern under the microscope.

How long does it take to repair the skin barrier?

How long does it take a barrier repair moisturizer to work?

A true barrier repair moisturizer will restore the the skin barrier in 14 days.1

There are many factors that affect how long it takes to fix the skin barrier: 

  • Which moisturizer you use
  • Which cleanser you use
  • What caused the underlying skin barrier defect
  • What habits you have that disturb the moisture barrier
  • Other products in your skin care routine

To restore the skin barrier fast, you must make sure you have removed any skin care products that injure the barrier such as foaming cleansers, harsh exfoliants. and alcohol.

For the fastest results, Make sure your entire skin care routine is right for your Baumann Skin Type.

How To Accelerate Skin Barrier Recovery

Assuming you are not doing any of the things that compromise the skin barrier, you can speed up how long it takes the skin barrier to be restored.

The following have been shown to affect how fast the barrier recovers:

  • Moisturizers containing humectants like glycerin2, in addition to barrier repair ingredients.3
  • Barrier repair moisturizers with saturated fatty acids like stearic acid and palmitic acid.4
  • Cleansers with saturated fatty acids ,such as creamy cleansers and cleansing oils
  • Exposure to 10-30 kHz of ultrasound waves5
  • The hormone estradiol speeds barrier repair
  • Avoid progesterone supplementation. Estradiol + progesterone slows barrier repair
  • Avoid testosterone supplementation because testosterone slows barrier repair.6
  • Magnesium rich epsom salts or dead sea salts7 8 in bath water speed barrier recovery 
  • Decrease psychological stress9
  • Aromatherapy with stress reducing odors like lavender10
  • Red light exposure.11 12
  • Avoid ultraviolet light and blue light.
  • Temperatures between 97- 100 degrees13
  • Adequate sleep14

Using the right skin care products for your Baumann Skin Type is an important way to protect and repair your skin barrier

Ingredients to repair the skin barrier

Many barrier repair products have moisturizing ingredients- but not all of these play a role in restoring the skin barrier.

There are many ingredients in skin barrier creams that claim to strengthen the skin barrier.

The best ingredients to repair the skin barrier:

  • ceramides
  • fatty acids
  • cholesterol
  • stearic acid
  • argan oil
  • oils with stearic acid
  • cocoa butter

Lipids (fats) that repair the skin barrier

Dermatologist Dr. Peter Elias and his team3 first described how to use lipids to restore the skin barrier.4

Since then, there have been many moisturizers that claim to use lipids to restore the skin barrier- however- very few barrier repair moisturizers contain the correct lipids in the correct ratio to restore the skin barrier.

Ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterol are the fats in barrier repair products that strengthen the skin barrier.

The best fatty acid to repair the skin barrier is stearic acid which is found in many oils like argan oil.

What is the correct ratio of these lipids for optimal barrier repair?

As demonstrated by many studies7 the best ratio of lipids to restore the skin barrier is 1:1:1 (ceramides: fatty acids: cholesterol in equal amounts).

Using the wrong ratio of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids actually injures the skin barrier and delays repair.8

If a moisturizer has more ceramides than fatty acids and cholesterol, or more fatty acids than ceramides and cholesterol, the moisturizer will injure the skin barrier.9

This means that the barrier repair cream must have the same amount of ceramides as fatty acids and as cholesterol.

Does hyaluronic acid repair the skin barrier?

No hyaluronic acid does not repair the skin barrier. Hyaluronic (HA) serums are humectants that pull water to the skin's surface.  This gives temporary hydration but does not repair the barrier.

In fact, HA is not good for the skin barrier.  Using hyaluronic acid on skin with a broken barrier in a  dry climate will actually dehydrate the skin. This occurs because humectants pull water from the skin in a dry environment.

If you want to use HA and your barrier is impaired, you must combine the HA with a barrier repair moisturizer.

Derma Made Ceramide Barrier Cream is one the best barrier repair creams with hyaluronic acid.

Is AHA good for a damaged skin barrier?

Alpha hydroxy acids temporarily disrupt the skin barrier because they are humectants and exfoliants.  However with time they improve the skin's ability to protect itself by making the stratum corneum more compact .  AHAs and BHAs are not very effective at strengthening the skin barrier.  

Does niacinamide help repair the moisture barrier?

Niacinamide is a very interesting skin care ingredient used for anti-aging and soothing the skin.  However, it does not have any effect on the skin barrier.

Niacinamide is often combined with barrier repair ingredients, but does not repair the skin barrier itself.

This  is an example of a skin barrier cream with niacinamide.

Is glycerin good for the skin barrier?

Glycerin is a humectant, not a barrier repair ingredient.

It pulls water to the skin's surface which helps the skin compensate for a defective skin barrier, but glycerin does not repair the skin barrier.

Natural Oils to repair the skin barrier

Oils with large amounts of the fatty acids linoleic acid and stearic are the best oils to restore the skin barrier naturally. 

Good oils for the skin barrier are:

  • Argan oil
  • Borage seed oil
  • Evening primrose oil
  • safflower oil
  • sunflower oil

Our favorite soothing oils are:

Moisturizers with Ceramides

There are many types of ceramides in skin care products. Why are ceramides important in skin creams?

  • The skin can make its own ceramides, but ceramide production is reduced in aged skin.11
  • Ceramides play a role in inflammation
  • Ceramides can be deficient in psoriasis and eczema.12

Avoid ceramide-containing moisturizers that do not have fatty acids and cholesterol as discussed above.

What are the best ceramides to look for on moisturizer ingredient labels?

Look for ceramide 1, ceramide 3, ceramide NP, or pseudoceramides on the product label. 

Moisturizers with Fatty Acids

It is hard to look at the product label to find which fatty acids are in a moisturizer because they go by many names that can be found in oils.

To learn more about how to find out the best fatty acids in barrier creams, click here.

What are the best fatty acids to repair the skin barrier?

There are many different things to consider when choosing which fatty acid to use in a moisturizer.

Stearic acid, linoleic acid and palmitic acid are the most commonly used fatty acids in barrier repair moisturizers.

The best fatty acids to look for depends upon your Baumann Skin Type®.

  1. Is skin dry or oily?
  2. Does skin have inflammation?
  3. Does the skin have an uneven skin tone?

Each of these skin issues should be considered when choosing fatty acids in moisturizers

Moisturizers with cholesterol

Barrier repair moisturizers must have cholesterol. In order for a moisturizer to truly repair the barrier, you need:

  1. The same amount of cholesterol as fatty acids and ceramides in a 1:1:1 ratio
  2. A maltese cross pattern of lipids 

Moisturizers with cholesterol but no ceramides and fatty acids injures the skin barrier by disrupting the natural lipid puzzle piece pattern.

Is there a specific type of cholesterol to look for in barrier repair moisturizers?

The product label will say cholesterol or Beta Sitosterol, which is a vegan form of cholesterol. Cholesterol is able to get into the skin because of its hydrophobic lipophilic structure and a membrane transporter called ABCA1 that regulates cholesterol flow into the skin.13

Will cholesterol in skin care products raise my cholesterol levels in my body?

No. Cholesterol molecules stay in the top layers of the epidermis and are not absorbed into the bloodstream.

Barrier Repair creams with retinol

There are no barrier repair creams with retinoids at this time that are good.

Using a barrier repair cream before retinol can decrease the penetration of the retinol and decrease side effects.

This is a good way to slowly begin using retinol.

Once you are used to your retinol, you can apply the retinol first and the barrier repair moisturizer on top.

This can help push more retinol into the skin through occlusion.

What skin conditions do barrier repair creams treat?

Barrier creams can treat:

Do you need a barrier repair moisturizer?

You need a skin barrier repair moisturizer if you have:

Let us help you find the best barrier repair products and skin care routine for your skin type!

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References

  1. De Paepe, K., Roseeuw, D., & Rogiers, V. (2002). Repair of acetone‐and sodium lauryl sulphate‐damaged human skin barrier function using topically applied emulsions containing barrier lipids. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology16(6), 587-594.
  2. Park, B. D., Youm, J. K., Jeong, S. K., Choi, E. H., Ahn, S. K., & Lee, S. H. (2003). The characterization of molecular organization of multilamellar emulsions containing pseudoceramide and type III synthetic ceramide. Journal of investigative dermatology121(4), 794-801.
  3. Elias, P. M. (2004). The epidermal permeability barrier: from the early days at Harvard to emerging concepts. The Journal of investigative dermatology122(2), xxxvi.
  4. Mao-Qiang, M., Feingold, K. R., Thornfeldt, C. R., & Elias, P. M. (1996). Optimization of physiological lipid mixtures for barrier repair. Journal of Investigative Dermatology106(5), 1096-1101.
  5. Man MQ, Feingold KR, Elias PM. Exogenous lipids influence permeability barrier recovery in acetone-treated murine skin. Arch Dermatol. 1993;129(6):728-38.
  6. Baumann L. Ch 43 Moisturizers in Baumann’s Cosmetic Dermatology 3rd edition (McGraw Hill 2021) in press
  7. Man, M. Q., Feingold, K. R., & Elias, P. M. (1993). Exogenous lipids influence permeability barrier recovery in acetone-treated murine skin. Archives of dermatology129(6), 728-738.
  8. Mao-Qiang, M., Feingold, K. R., Thornfeldt, C. R., & Elias, P. M. (1996). Optimization of physiological lipid mixtures for barrier repair. Journal of Investigative Dermatology106(5), 1096-1101.
  9. Man MQ, Feingold KR, Elias PM. Exogenous lipids influence permeability barrier recovery in acetone-treated murine skin. Arch Dermatol. 1993;129(6):728-38.
  10. Zettersten EM, Ghadially R, Feingold KR, Crumrine D, Elias PM. Optimal ratios of topical stratum corneum lipids improve barrier recovery in chronologically aged skin. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1997;37(3 Pt 1):403-8.
  11. Jensen, J. M., Förl, M., Winoto‐Morbach, S., Seite, S., Schunck, M., Proksch, E., & Schütze, S. (2005). Acid and neutral sphingomyelinase, ceramide synthase, and acid ceramidase activities in cutaneous aging. Experimental dermatology14(8), 609-618.
  12. Li, Q., Fang, H., Dang, E., & Wang, G. (2020). The role of ceramides in skin homeostasis and inflammatory skin diseases. Journal of dermatological science97(1), 2-8.
  13. https://cdn.mdedge.com/files/s3fs-public/issues/articles/70891_main_0.pdf

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